FBI and BIA arrest 17 in 14-month investigation on Standing Rock

2012-06-05T12:00:00Z 2012-06-05T23:29:46Z FBI and BIA arrest 17 in 14-month investigation on Standing RockBy JENNY MICHAEL | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

Federal and tribal authorities arrested 17 people on drug charges on Standing Rock reservation Tuesday morning, following a 14-month investigation that featured an unusual level of cooperation among federal and tribal prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon said the cases of the 17 people weren’t necessarily related but all stemmed from the same investigation by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services. It was labeled “Operation Prairie Thunder.”

Besides the FBI and BIA, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, Sioux County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Parole and Pre-Trial Services also were involved in the investigation and arrests Tuesday morning on the reservation that straddles North Dakota and South Dakota.

Operation Prairie Thunder resulted in 10 people being charged in U.S. District Court in North Dakota, two people being charged in U.S. District Court in South Dakota and five people charged in Standing Rock Tribal Court.

The charges mostly involve possession or distribution of marijuana and prescription drugs. Purdon said he was somewhat surprised by the amount of prescription drug misuse alleged in the case. There has been talk of prescription drug abuse being a growing problem on reservations, and Operation Prairie Thunder seems to substantiate that, he said.

Purdon said the cooperation among his office and the offices of U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chief Prosecutor Grant Walker allowed for appropriate charges to be filed in the case. Purdon explained that had Walker’s office not been involved, five people charged in tribal court would have either faced felonies in federal court or would not have been charged at all since federal prosecutors would not have focused on the lower-level charges.

"The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to a strategy in Indian Country that is built on close cooperation between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors," Purdon said. "This cooperation has resulted in charges being filed, not just in federal court, but also in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s own tribal court where appropriate. Cooperation like this means better law enforcement, better prosecutions and safer communities."

"These indictments illustrate the progress that is being made in Standing Rock and throughout Indian Country in South Dakota and North Dakota," Johnson said. "The success of this investigation was the result of close cooperation between dedicated professionals in numerous law enforcement agencies."

Walker said the cooperation allowed the tribe to participate directly in Operation Prairie Thunder.

"By being a partner in this operation, the Standing Rock Tribe is able, through the exercise of its own sovereignty, to make its own important contribution to the safety of its community," he said.

In another unusual move, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Miller traveled to Standing Rock Reservation south of Mandan on Tuesday morning to hold first appearances for the 10 people charged in U.S. District Court in North Dakota.

"It's very, very rare" for a federal judge to travel to a reservation for court hearings, Purdon said. "I'm aware of it at least once in North Dakota, many, many years ago."

Purdon said his office coordinated with the federal court to have Miller go to Fort Yates for the hearing. Taking the court to the community gives the tribe an investment in the process and eliminates geography as an obstacle for defendants and others involved, he said. Such court hearings typically are held at a federal courthouse, such as the one in downtown Bismarck.

"They feel connected to it, and they are aware of what is going on," Purdon said about the advantage of taking the court to the reservation. "It shows that we’re all working together to try to improve public safety in Indian Country."

He said such efforts could be made again.

"We are always looking for ways to work together with tribal courts, federal courts, and state, local and tribal law enforcement," he said.

Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein of the FBI's Minneapolis field office, which includes North Dakota and South Dakota, called the arrests in Operation Prairie Thunder "a shining example of cooperative law enforcement efforts."

"Jurisdictional issues exist throughout Indian Country and working together with other federal, state and local agencies in a common goal is essential for Indian Country law enforcement," Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent in Charge Mario Redlegs said. "This Operation affirms to the people of Standing Rock that we are watching vigilantly and ensuring that they do have a safe place to live."

Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or jenny.michael@bismarcktribune.com.

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(28) Comments

  1. NVIIA
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    NVIIA - June 11, 2012 10:29 pm
    Aren't the original hippies now collecting social security checks? It seems to me our war on drugs isn't working and should be scrapped. Too many young men in prison for doing the same drugs that many "productive" citizens have used or tried themselves. Hypocricy is a major problem in this country.

    As for the goings on down in Standing Rock, I'll let those that live there do the commenting. But I do wish there would be a lower alcohol and drug usage. It seems to me money would be better spent on social programs for alcoholism, drug detoxification, and women's abuse centers.
  2. HunkpapaLakotaWiya
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    HunkpapaLakotaWiya - June 11, 2012 5:58 pm
    oHHH MYYYY GOSH!! Seriously, these people who ''got busted'' should pay the price of what they have been doing for how many years? Believe me, I know all of these people who got convicted were doing this for soo long. And yeah right, to pay and to get by for their children?? That's a POOR excuse for being a parent. Get off the Rez and go to school or something..
  3. HunkpapaLakotaWiya
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    HunkpapaLakotaWiya - June 11, 2012 5:48 pm
  4. flower
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    flower - June 10, 2012 2:06 pm
    Ok these comments make me laugh- one thing i have never understiid is what is the point of reservations? Cant we all live together with the same resources and opportunities? Im actually a strong believer in getting help for alll people on drugs and being oppressed seriously im sure there is other issues then ehat some white guy did before these people were alive! I know i use to use because of low self esteem and i am thankful for family and friends to step in and help not because some dude took the farm from my great grwat great grear grandpa! Natives whites blacks mexicans chinese who cares lets all live together and work to maje a beautiful future rather than focus on
    the padt cuz there is no changing tbat now

  5. siouxgirl
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    siouxgirl - June 08, 2012 10:00 am
    It seems to me that everyone is treating our reservations like the abused step child that nobody wants. A burden that has to be taken care of hoping it will eventually go away. I blame all those that have oppressed us as Native people. This is our land! Were here first. Big brother forces his foot in our door and stirs the pot and comes out like a pleased little child saying "look what I've done!" It's a circle of abuse, how about instead of punishing our people for operating the machine you've banished us to, start treating many of these people like victims of your oppression and get them help! There you go, comment away---
  6. Slevin
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    Slevin - June 07, 2012 11:44 am
    It is just their tactics I don't agree with. The money for the investigation could have been spent more wisely.

    Like Alcoholtherealkiller said Marijuana is not a gateway drug. Look at prison populations sinse Ronald Reagan took office. Since the war on drugs our prison population has increased 15 fold. This is the result of many drug users going to prison. This is something I do not agree with. Get the dealers, forget the users. These people are self medicating, and in most cases are only hurting themselves. If they do happen to commit more serious crimes, then arrest them by all means. But there is no need to fill prisons with low level offenders. We have the largest prison population in the world and for very obvious reasons.

    The issue with many people opposed to medical marijuana is that they do not make a distinction between medicinal use and substance abuse.
  7. Quality
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    Quality - June 07, 2012 11:12 am
    "Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein" Is this the same SA Schwein who was involved with the 1993 Branch Davidian siege?

    “Operation Prairie Thunder.” ? I would have to believe that the operation did make a noise on the prairie. Unfortunately, most of those listed will plead to lesser.

  8. july09
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    july09 - June 07, 2012 9:26 am
    there are the plenty of available jobs at the casino and tribe.
    excuses excuses excuses
  9. ProudSRSTSiouxMember01
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    ProudSRSTSiouxMember01 - June 06, 2012 9:07 pm
    Don't Blame the PEOPLE Blame The TRIBE guess It's how some people are making money to make way for themself's & their Kid's When they don't got family working in that tribe office to be writing them check's or Offering them a JOB This been going on for year's IT'S NO SURPRISE Maybe if they did this LAST year they could of SAVED a 21 Year old Females Life Nothing good came out of this Just bunch of more caos for the peoples names giving up above..
  10. Alcoholtherealkiller
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    Alcoholtherealkiller - June 06, 2012 7:11 pm
    Weed leads to hard drugs........total nonsense.......only because a person must go to the street to get it...............a weed bank would eliminate that..........a person who has a medical dependency for weed deals with times when they cannot find it....... that circumstance may lead to using a harder drug to medicate...........it is not the weed that leads to other drugs..............it is the circumstances our drug laws create that lead to other harder drugs............I'm not for getting our youth stoned, but I am totally against criminalizing people who have no better alternative to medicate serious illnesses . . . again I say. . . LEGALIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA ........it will benefit society.............I like your old school comments though...........this government spoon fed MYTH needs to cleared up.
  11. Honor
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    Honor - June 06, 2012 4:54 pm
    It sounds as though some people are never satisfied. Hopefully we will have 17 individuals off of the street that need to be. There is no question that there are many other issues on the reservations, but let's celebrate the fact that something is being done to help.

    I cannot believe that there are individuals that think legalizing marijuana would be a benefit to society. It is well known that many of the users of hard drugs begin by using marijuana and making it more available and legal even for "medical" purposes would be a major detriment to society. The last thing society needs is more access to a mind altering substance. Alcohol is bad enough. Just think how much harm there has been to society as the direct result of alcohol (broken marriages, abuse, crime, senseless deaths caused by DUI, etc.)
  12. CashinChecks
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    CashinChecks - June 06, 2012 2:58 pm
    While some are complaining about his "small" bust, the problem is the FBI and BIA are underfunded and most likely under staffed. Believe me, the BIA and ND FBI agents are well aware of what is happening on the reservations, but do you think Congress is going to open the purse strings to provide more money for enforcement? No chance. Its a shame really, because life on the reservation is a vicious cycle that few are able to escape.
  13. Slevin
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    Slevin - June 06, 2012 11:59 am
    I agree with going after the prescription pills to a point, but these all seem like low level crimes, not involving a tremendous amount of drugs. You would think with all the resources being poured into this investigation that more would get done.

    Bismarck Police got one person to be an informant for them and he wore a wire on over 25 people. Bismarck Police got more done with the help of one lazy drug addict.
  14. jojo01
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    jojo01 - June 06, 2012 11:32 am
    there are more serious crimes on standing rock that are getting out of control the violence comes from the alcohol abuse are children are suffering and BIA is sitting there with their chest buffed out and heads held high when two weeks ago 5 juvinile girls were drunk behind a relatives house one as young as 10 years old when the BIA was called they didn't even press child neglect charges or any kind of charges on the parents so tell me should we really be this proud over this money being spent on small time..I'm glad they caught the few who sell pills. pills is another issue they are being sold right out of grocery stores on the reservation so let's not be to happy this isn't even a stratch to what the problem on standing rock all the money getting embezzeled. Everyone is so worried about money these days they are forgetting the dignity of our people, full grown adults sit in meetings argueing like children. Domestic Abuse Child Abuse there should have been efforts made towards all these crimes not just staying focused on one problem, seen to many of people I know getting jumped and hit in the head with objects so was this 14 month OPPERATION PRARIE THUNDER worth our tax money?????
  15. redthundersioux
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    redthundersioux - June 06, 2012 10:19 am
  16. Joli66
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    Joli66 - June 06, 2012 9:24 am
    Not to be a downer on the "parade", but I truly wish the US Attorney's office would put this sort of effort into the defense of Native Women, who are victimized by non-Native perpetrators (and don't aim for my head just yet: Native offenders as well) on reservations. The lack of prosecution for non-Native on Native crimes committed on reservations is something that has been lacking attention due attention since 1876, when the Indian Affairs Commissioner stated, "...reservations are a refuge to the most lawless and desperate white men in American...because there they are practically beyond the reach and operation of law, and can live lives of crime and debauchery with impunity and without reproach..." In 2007, Sen. Byron Dorgan identified the same concern. The "drug business" on reservations is a symptom of inadequate justice and loss of hope. I wonder how many of those arrested in Prairie Thunder came through victimization without adequate support or healing. As it stands, Native persons are already over-represented in both state and federal prison systems, while non-Native persons committing crimes on Indian lands go without prosecution for the most part. The reason I'm directing my comments at the over-represented Native offenders is drawn from the article's comment on dual prosecution (tribal and federal courts are forums for this matter), which tells me the defendants are all Native. The federal government won't allow Tribes to prosecute non-Native criminals in Tribal courts, unless they adopt the Tribal Law and Order Act, which would be a financial burden for tribes with already challenged finances AND TLOA affords non-Native criminal defendants more rights than their Native counterparts. In my opinion, we would do best by addressing the root of the problem, rather than spend lavishly on initiatives like this.
  17. JBenson
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    JBenson - June 06, 2012 9:07 am
    I don't know - seems like a long and expensive investigation, only to yield what appear to be a few small fish. It would seem that high-level agencies, like those involved, would be able to get some major players in this timeframe.
  18. jojo01
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    jojo01 - June 06, 2012 8:55 am
    Yes good job to our law enforcement for doing your job! on letting the real criminals come on and off our reservation with their drugs where do you think all them quanities of drugs come from HELLO!
  19. jojo01
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    jojo01 - June 06, 2012 8:52 am
    I would like to add something to this...yea its a good thing that they spent all this money on a few people for drugs but all they aressted were small time dealers why aren't they trying to get the people that run the all of these drugs to our reservations? and From what I heard in the federal courts the FBI and BIA aressted one person who didn't even have anything but a bottle of dollar store asprin lol this makes me laugh again money wasted when the alcohol in McLaughlin is the problem along with the pills but as far as marijuana I have nothing against it yes its iilegal but our government should be making money off it so we can get out of this trillions and trillions of dollars in debt with another country lol..well I know the raid was to stop drugs but all it did was make the big time dealers laugh and put their stuff away until the small time get all the blame again BIA are fools!
  20. hitlerwasasocialconservative
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    hitlerwasasocialconservative - June 06, 2012 8:32 am
    As an American taxpayer i'm simply amazed that we bankrolled a fourteen month investigation with many agencies to arrest some people for marijuana, i'm sure it's just as easy to find marijuana on standing rock today as it was yesterday and the country is only a hundred thousand or so in the hole.
  21. ing1947
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    ing1947 - June 06, 2012 8:06 am
    I think most residents of reservations know that drug trafficking is rampant throughout all our reservations. I'm glad to see this one small step has been finally taken by the authorities to put a dent into some of these activities.
  22. Alcoholtherealkiller
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    Alcoholtherealkiller - June 06, 2012 12:37 am
    Alcohol has killed people everyday all day since mankind made it............weed has healed and medicated people all day everyday since GOD made it...........I thought laws were suppose to protect the public.......LEGALIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA
  23. july09
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    july09 - June 05, 2012 8:12 pm
    well, it is a start!

    maybe if people would speak up these people could be incarcerated also.
    i live here too in fort yates and i am oblivious to these smash parties i have never heard this slang before.
    i know a lot of people abuse their prescription drugs they are given at the ihs.
    selling and making money off of them. get a real frickn job! don't say there are no jobs available. your just lazyasses.
  24. Under The Wood
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    Under The Wood - June 05, 2012 7:08 pm
    Yeah, your a bright one Lilbig! Keep typing, your IP Address can be tracked and then they'll be watchin you when the next bust goes down :)

    Have a nice day!
  25. elijahghostdancer
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    elijahghostdancer - June 05, 2012 5:37 pm
    wowzaa is right. This "drug bust" hardly scratches the surface of the rampant selling, use, and continuing abuse of prescription drugs. Everyone on Standing Rock knows what "smash parties" are, whom has them, where the pills come from, and what the names of the more popular drugs are.
    The problem with this is that the BIA, the FBI, and the prosecutors seem oblivious to this well known fact.
    How any real investigation of drugs on Standing Rock happens without finding all of this out is beyond human comprehension.
  26. wowzaa
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    wowzaa - June 05, 2012 3:45 pm
    there are so many more "dealers" than this down there, at least a few of them will be behind bars tonite. I wish they would of arrested the pillheads too.. theyre running rampant down there....
  27. Rodgerdodger
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    Rodgerdodger - June 05, 2012 2:49 pm
    And now life goes on... most of the cases will get a slap on the wrist and be back at home in a month or so... War on drugs is the largest waste of money.... legalize marijuana let them smoke the natural weed. what harm will come of it.... might actually keep kids off of these legal bath salts and synthetic grass that makes you eat peoples faces off.... Nobody has ever sold their body for grass... nobody has ever committed a violent crime and blamed it on the weed..
  28. july09
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    july09 - June 05, 2012 1:38 pm
    good news today! they rounded up the dealers and the druggies.

    good job BIA AND FBI
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